Monday the h turned 46 and because most people like a little fuss, even people like the h who don’t really like a fuss, we made a moderate fuss, declaring it birthday weekend, with gifts and cards and attention and cake doled out in serial fashion across Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
We drove to Tahoe, possibly the h’s favorite place, just me and the h and the little one and our newest pack member, everyone’s favorite, the one, the only, the chocolate Jake, who was also celebrating a birthday – six months and fifty pounds of well-meaning puppy enthusiasm. We love him a lot, our Jakey-roo. Sometimes you just get so lucky you can’t believe it.
We all love Jake, but Jake loves the h with a pure, unblinking and depthless devotion that makes the word love seem puny and inadequate. The h was an early disciplinarian, swift and stern and undeterred by mournful puppy yipping (very unlike me, I might add) and this has bred in Jake an unwavering confidence in Dear Leader (as his eyes have so clearly named the h) as the Be-All End-All Force of the Universe.
The rest of us are tolerated, even cheerfully liked for our ability and willingness to provide food, water, entertainment, walks, interesting experiences, and a place to rest his velvety chin, but no one gets the same level of hopeful-soulful puppy regard that Jake bestows on the h.
The arrival of Jake has enlivened the ghost of my lost little man, whose small, loyal form still seems to shadow me at times, especially when I sit alone to write, or read. Sometimes I cry, but less and less – Jake’s frantic clowning to get my mind off whatever is making me sad is too touching not to reward with anything but total success. Before you know it I am telling him, Sure, I’ll throw the ball (or duck, or raccoon, or unicorn).
I bought all of the h’s gifts at Cabella’s which is a huge outdoor sportsman’s retail paradise in Reno. They have everything, from tents and camo to guns and ammo. Probably they have camo ammo, which is no more unlikely than pink rifles, which I saw with my own eyes. It would have been hard to miss actually – the gun counter was the busiest counter in the store, with customers standing shoulder to shoulder along all 100+ feet of it.
They were selling guns by the dozens and I wondered if I asked each couple - because they were almost all couples, the he of the duo outfitting his she – why are you buying this gun, and under what conditions would you shoot it? - would they all say something similar?
The h and I will sometimes shoot trap in a place we know on the north side of the lake. To get there, you park your car, climb the barrier gate and hike in, the tarmac giving way beneath your feet to a wide trail rutted by regular snow run-off.
Off trail is brambly and dense; bear tracks were visible, as huge and distinct and startling as the palm print of God there in the snowpack that was melting into big dirty white jigsaw pieces on the Alpine floor.
You walk in a half mile and there is something like a driveway cut, and you walk in there, and the space opens up around you like a theatre, only instead of chairs side by side it is boulders of all sizes. There is a rectangle clearing like a deserted parking lot that sits in the more-or-less center of the boulders, forming a sort of stage for the shooter, who aims at targets propped up the hill.
The boulder field stretches uphill for a few hundred feet up beyond the shooting theater. It is littered with rocks and the remains of exploded targets – coffee cans lacey with rust, cloudy 2 liter plastic soda bottles, the occasional brown shards of beer bottles.
There is an odd patch of grass here and a gnarled bush there, but mostly it is rocks that rear and pile everywhere, rocks of all sizes, their backs white and mottled and bleached from the snow and the sun. The boulders and rocks seem to sit sentry but there is no sense of security in that, just an odd sensation of being watched in the quiet that is somehow thick.
The backs of the rocks poking whitely out of the thin soil remind me of a line in a poem I read once. They are like the once-buried skulls of children breaking through, or the cairns of the dead, fallen with time… or perhaps some other force has done that.
In my head I have fallen into the habit of calling it the Gallery. It is a spooky word, as watchfully suggestive as the silent, charged air of the place itself. My mind turns to it at odd moments, toying with the image of a girl standing at the center of those boulders, seemingly menaced.
This is what I think of as my pre-writing phase. I’ll keep mentally revisiting that image until I figure out the story that led to it, and of course, what comes after – always the best/worst part.
In addition to the Tahoe trip we had a weekend in Florida, where the h’s mom got married. The day itself was clear and cool and crisp and the bride looked radiant in strapless cream colored satin standing in the grassy backyard sloping down toward the lake, surrounded by her mom, eight children and their spouses, more than twenty grandchildren (and two great grandchildren).
The bride and groom held hands and included all of us in their vows. The graying groom got misty when he wished to be 40 again for the pleasure of more time with this, his last and best love, and then the bride said in reply “I so admire your amazing heart”, a line that flashed with all the brightness of the sun on the lake behind her as we gathered for pictures, the light of late afternoon slanting all around us.
In the midst of this scene I remembered our own wedding, the h and I and the girls and the h’s mom standing knee deep in freshly fallen snow which fell thickly from a sky whose gray color blended indistinguishably from the air, our vows leaving our lips in balloons of cold vapor.
“Love as the roof of the universe” I had written that night, and these words occurred to me again there in the chilly Florida sunshine, love as a roof, a place to shelter, a thing you know with the liquid-eyed certainty of a loyal dog to be the Be-All, End-All, Force of the Universe.